- The Somali semi-autonomous region of Puntland has intensified its attacks on the Sool and Sanaag areas, administered by Somaliland but claimed by both. Puntland militias are now moving deep into Sool, which is currently experiencing its worst drought in decades and depends on international emergency aid.
The political complex situation in the severely drought affected areas of the Sool and Sanaag plateau is frustrating aid workers. Sool and Sanaag historically belonged to British Somaliland, which bases its 12-year-old independence claim on the old colonial borders between the British colony and Italian Somalia.
The north-western tip of Somalia, meanwhile, is a temporary built political structure under the name of Puntland, awaiting Somali peace before returning into Somalia. The Puntland administration of Colonel Abdullahi Youssuf is dominated by the Darod clans - while Somaliland is dominated by Isak clans - and Puntland claims the Sool and Sanaag areas because of their alleged Darod population majority.
Since December, Puntland militias have slowly infiltrated the Sool area, culminating in the complete occupation of the area's capital, Las Anod, by forces loyal to the Garowe administration.
On Saturday, Puntland troops were reported to have further advanced the the pro-Somaliland outpost at Tifafle, 8 kilometres north of Las Anod. The attack on Tifafle resulted in the killing of three of the aides of Somaliland's Minister for Rural Affairs, Fou'ad Adan Ade, in addition to kidnapping the Minister's brother, according to reports in the 'Somaliland Times'. The Hargeisa daily claims that Puntalnd forces were aiming to kill or capture Mr Adan Ade.
So far, the democratically elected government of Somaliland has not reacted forcefully against the attacks from the war-lord regime in Puntland. This alleged impotence has cost the Somalilander President, Dahir Rayale Kahin, harsh critiques from the opposition and the press. Columnists openly claim President Rayale is seeking to undermine Somaliland's independence.
The Puntland attack on Tifafle, which seemed to have been an attack directed at Minister Adan Ade, however has upset the Hargeisa government. A spokesman for the government said Somaliland would "no longer tolerate" Colonel Yusuf's destructive campaign against the lives and properties of innocent Somaliland citizens in and around Las Anod. A Hargeisa Minister told Puntland to "stop playing with fire" and withdraw its forces.
Somaliland has however yet to answer the military attacks from Puntland. Militias from Garowe have so far only been met by locally organised militias of Sool residents loyal to Somaliland, offering little resistance.
The reasons for Hargeisa's unwillingness to act are disputed. One major reason is said to be the positive image of peace and stability that has been built around Somaliland's 12-year-old bid for international recognition - contrasting the chaos in Somalia. Further, Hargeisa troops are said to be ill-prepared for warfare, which probably could be long lasting.
Another important reason is however the human suffering that would be caused by a conflict in Sool and Sanaag by warfare at this precarious moment. According to UN agencies, the two areas are experiencing "the worst drought in decades."
As Sool and Sanaag are rapidly getting dependent on international humanitarian aid to secure the survival of its people, war actions by Hargeisa could jeopardise the entire emergency operation that is currently building up.
- Ongoing interventions could be jeopardised or even halted if the situation escalates into violent conflict, UNICEF, which coordinates the emergency efforts in the area, warned only last week. Puntland authorities, since then, seem to have taken advantage of the humanitarian crisis in Sool to launch their attack on Tifafle.
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